The Decades of Control

Imagine waking up one morning with a severe headache that won’t go away.

Imagine having an MRI scan, discovering a blood clot in your brain, one that’s caused by a tumour.

Imagine grappling with complex decisions around having surgery for it — or not.

Of facing the reality of death, or the crippling horror of brain damage as a complication.

Of coming to terms with the consequences to your family.

Imagine having to do all of this in a week or two.

That’s what a dear friend of mine faced some months ago. His story had a happy ending. But as we talked about it, we realized how it had shifted his perspective… and mine, as well.

“Nothing’s in our control. Just enjoy each day as it comes.”

Flashback — A Few Decades Ago

“You are the master of your own destiny!”

The words screamed off the pages of a self-help book I was reading in my mid-20s. They burned themselves into my malleable mind, becoming a mantra.

It was also when, for the first time, I had control over some things.

Until then, I had little money to manage. Still a student over the extended period of medical education, I only took orders and instructions, was given little responsibility, and had almost no authority.

All that was set to change.

And with new-found confidence and determination, I prepared to take charge of my destiny.

I was going to be in control!

The Thrill — And Chill

For the next 20 years, most of my choices were made based on how much control I would have over outcomes.

It was exciting, fun and challenging. To be doing things that would live or die as a direct consequence of my decisions, actions and focus was a great rush. It was the most energetic phase of my life, and I loved every minute of it.

But gradually, over the years, something became apparent. The impression grew stronger with more experience. The realization was a dampener…

The “control” that I had so cherished and craved was really an illusion.

When it comes to important things that actually matter, the determinative events in any cascade, the most vital elements are seldom (if ever) under our control.

They’re unpredictable. Random. Indiscriminate.

You may walk safely on the sidewalk… but can’t compensate for the reckless or drunk driver who may crash into you. Or the rotten, weakened tree branch that could fall on you. Or the crack in the pavement you might trip over to fracture your skull.

You’re not truly in control.

Of anything!

You might crave the desire to be in control. To pretend to yourself that your free will and choice drives events and outcomes. And the illusion is definitely helpful.

Yet, in time, one sees, hears and goes through so many experiences that dispel this myth and shine the blinding light of reality on an undeniable truth…

That you aren’t in control.

Not of a bleed into your brain.

Not of a walk on the street.

Not of your life.

Maybe it takes many decades to learn this lesson. I wish there were a way to speed it up, though. Because to know and accept this sets you free.

To enjoy every day, as it unfolds.